Fraud victims are being denied justice, says a watchdog, as it found just one per cent of officers are being assigned to investigate the crime.
In a report published on Thursday, HM Inspectorate of police said forces were wrongly dismissing fraud as a low priority, victimless crime with too few officers and too few investigations allocated to it.
They said the result was that “far too few criminals [are being] brought to justice.”
“All this leads to far too few victims receiving the service and the justice they want and are entitled to expect,” they added.
They said fraud, whichy was the most common of all crimes, should not be downgraded as its impact could be devastating, causing misery to victims and serious damage to the economy.
The 731,000 fraud offences reported to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) represented 13 per cent of all recorded crime, although this was a fraction of the estimated 3.7 million incidents of fraud based on people’s actual experience. Many people were too ashamed to report it to police.
Yet, despite the scale of the problem, the inspectors said less than one per cent of all police personnel (1,618 full-time equivalents) were involved in fraud investigation.
Limited capacity to investigate
“There is an overwhelming mismatch between the scale of fraud offences and the capacity and capability of forces to investigate them,” said the inspectors.
They found that the length of time victims had to wait for their call to be picked up by Action Fraud, the main police clearing hub for the offence, and the number of people who hung up before they were answered, were still unacceptably high.
Research showed that in the year ending March 2018, some 37 per cent of people hung up before their call was answered and the average call waiting time was 13 minutes 40 seconds.
The inspectors said Action Fraud’s performance had not improved since then. “The average call waiting time and abandonment rate remain too high,” they said.
“Sadly, far too many crimes of fraud continue to be committed. There are too few examples of the police and other agencies coming together to prevent and protect the public from fraud.
“There are far too few officers working on it; there are far too few investigations into it; and there are far too few criminals brought to justice.”
“Too many victims still receive a poor service and are denied justice. The investigation and prevention of fraud offences, by police forces, remain under-resourced and are not given enough priority.”
The report is a follow-up to a similar investigation in 2019 when the inspectors concluded that a lack of capacity and capability in tackling fraud had an adverse effect on the quality of service provided to victims of fraud.
“These conclusions remain the case today. The scale of fraud has not diminished. The detrimental effect it has on society, business, the UK economy, and, most importantly, individuals’ lives is as great today as it has ever been.
“No one disputes this. Yet fraud continues to be treated as a low priority crime, a victimless crime, or a crime that doesn’t cause the harm that is recognised in other types of crime.
“In this report, we have made clear that fraud, and reducing its effects on victims, needs to become more of a priority.”
The inspectors cited the case of Pam and John, a couple in their 60s, who were defrauded out of an inheritance of of £180,000 which left them “destitute and needing to rely on the generosity of relatives”.
They had been reimbursed by the bank but were left emotionally broken.
“Both Pam and her husband are taking medication for anxiety and depression, and refuse to leave the house. John has talked about taking his own life. Their daughter has had to take time off work to care for them,” said the inspectors.